I wonder if you find it strange, as I do, that one of the few things that humans can agree on at this moment in time is that the state of the world is not ok, getting worse, and that we are to blame. We may have different perceptions of the turmoil and we may blame entirely different factors, but the messaging across platforms is generally consistent: humans are powerful enough to destroy the world and simultaneously not equipped to do anything about it.
Please understand that this is not about to be a rallying cry for “fixing” the world. If you’ve ever just needed a good venting session, and the person you’re venting to starts laying out their 5 step plan for how to fix your problems, then you know what I’m talking about. The earth does not need us to mansplain our solutions to her.
But she doesn’t need us to roll over and get out of her way either.
If you are in this audience of newsletter subscribers, you are probably no stranger to willpower. How else would you have finished an Ironman, started a business, or rose to the top of your company faster than all of those other less determined mortals? Willpower is an excellent tool for the aforementioned feats, as well as many other variously sized accomplishments.
But there are certain challenges for which willpower is simply not the right tool. For those, we will first need a better understanding of power dynamics within ourselves and in our relationships. We need a way to reconcile the invisible, energetic dynamic that exists between you and I, this and that, us and them. Why is it exactly that our power – our ability to affect change – tends to fall short in the areas that are the most meaningful, and emotionally entangled?
You could say, we need a higher power than willpower.
Now stay with me because I am certainly not talking about some old dead guy in the sky who seems to have oddly specific opinions about our sexual preferences, among other things. In a particular type of psychotherapy (DBT), practitioners use the term willfulness to describe a person who is trying to impose their will upon reality. This is generally seen as a liability because of the harm that can be inflicted when reality simply cannot be what the person is trying to will into being.
I know that I have certainly sampled the old “work harder not smarter” method. And I have absolutely spent far more time than I care to admit waiting around for what Martin Luther King Jr. described as “the moral arc of the universe” to bend benevolently towards my personal resolution of justice. However, much to my dismay, the universe does not function as my personal karmic debt collector, no matter how hard I work or how personally offended I am by the injustices imposed upon me.
I believe in fairness, equality, and collaboration too, of course. The problem is that when we stop there, we are liable to getting stuck believing that these principles will simply win out over time, and we give away our power to our assertion of deservingness. Denial of the underlying forces of power dynamics doesn’t elevate you to an existence devoid of power, it means you are participating at a disadvantage. It’s like science or climate change. You can choose not to believe in them, but they are still real and happening.
The most insidious way that we preclude ourselves from power is by our denial of it – within ourselves and within every relationship we occupy, no matter how harmonious. Power, remember, is the ability to affect change. We can all think of the relationships and situations where we are influential, and the frustrating situations where we are unable to move the dial. But this higher power that I’m referring to is so much bigger than being able to effectively impose your will upon reality. Influence is not control. If you have ever experienced what it’s like to be in a position of privilege and hierarchical authority, then hopefully you have experienced how much less satisfying it is when someone just does what you say as opposed to engaging in a giving and receiving of energy where a third thing can emerge.
This third thing is what I mean by a higher power. It’s an open-hearted conversation; not a solution or the result of the conversation, but the conversation itself. There are no fixed ways of solving our problems using insights we have attained through science, or psychotherapy, or any other method. There is only the willingness and the ability to skillfully participate in the dynamic on-going exchange of energy that exists between us and what we perceive as not us.
We sure do know a lot about our personal and collective problems but knowing about them is only the first step. And no, step 2 is not talking about them, as much as our media might try to convince us otherwise. The next step is embodiment. In order to use the insights we have, we have to be able to stay in our bodies, especially when it gets uncomfortable and we feel that all-too-familiar urge to shut down and fall back in line with the current rules we’ve been given for successful living. We cannot risk being successful within our current paradigms of success anymore. We cannot risk getting what we want and doing everything we set out to do. We have to be willing to be broken open. To follow what is alive and in flux and to let go of what is static and fixed.
I’d like you to imagine getting back into your body as a gentle yoga class on the beach. The sun is setting, making way for a sky full of purple and orange. There’s a light breeze caressing your skin as you gracefully move from posture to posture, feeling nothing but the warm, peaceful sensations of muscle relaxation. Now light that vision on fire because that’s not at all what it’s going to be like. As anyone who has persevered through the beginning phases of a meditation practice knows, there is a hot mess waiting inside of you. All of the thoughts and feelings are running rampant and there is not a single adult in the room.
If you are interested in coming with me on this journey, we’re going to have to start small. For the month of December, we’re going to commit to 3 daily practices. I’ve outlined them here. This challenge is for you if:
- You’ve been working and struggling towards the same goal for a while now, and haven’t made as much progress as you would have liked to.
- You’ve been trying to overcome a particular challenge in your life such as overcoming imposture syndrome or sticking with or creating a regular habit that you know would be good for you.
- You have vocalized what you want either with a partner, to yourself, at work, etc, but your influence doesn’t quite reach the point of changed behavior.
- You’ve reached a goal or a certain status in the world and it’s not exactly as fulfilling as you thought it would be.
- You are motivated to move forward, but are having trouble zeroing in on your purpose, a meaningful enough goal, or the best use of your time and energy.
We need embodied, aligned humans to step into their power and create change. Sure, you can use this advice to become a better athlete or to create some better habits for yourself. But if you’re not so sure those reasons are big enough to actually get your ass in gear, you’re absolutely right. They’re not big enough.